Sehome High School, one of three schools in the Bellingham School District, is the only one with a newspaper. The Rising Tide is a largely student run newspaper that releases once a month, featuring articles about a wide range of topics, from the Homecoming assembly to reflections on school shootings.
Dana Smith, an English teacher at Sehome who advises the newspaper and yearbook, has been the administrator for the newspaper since it was revived. “The Rising Tide at Sehome had not been a paper since ‘97 because there were some problems with the paper, and it died because nobody wanted to advise it,” she says. “There was a student … and her freshman year, she really wanted to get a newspaper started and her ninth grade English teacher sent her to talk to me.” Smith told the student, whose name was Margaret, that if she could find other like-minded people, then she would advise the paper as a club.
After two years of trying to kickstart the paper, they had five to ten students in Smith’s AP Language and Composition class who were interested. “Through [Margaret’s] sophomore year, we were figuring out how to make it happen,” Smith says. “I think that was the year I was on maternity leave and then I came back. I was teaching AP Lang and she was in my class and she had friends who wanted to do the newspaper as a club. I think that year we put out maybe four small issues. It was enough that then we put it back into the course catalog … and had class again the next year.”
The class has come a long way since those four issues. First, they learn about AP Style and writing ethically. Students then use Adobe programs like InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator to create the layout each month. The paper is headed by two student editors-in-chief, a junior and a senior. Every month, the editors-in-chief, along with the rest of the editing staff, run a group conversation to come up with story ideas and the theme of each issue. “I really love the relationships I get to build with students that are different than the relationships that I get to build in my other classes, because it’s just a different world,” Smith says. “It’s more like I’m co-managing a business. [The students] are running it and all I’m doing is peeking over [their] shoulder[s] and saying, ‘have you thought about this?’ or ‘this looks like it has a gap,’ or ‘your picture’s stretched.’ All I’m doing is helping [them] to tweak [their] paper, as opposed to me having all the ownership over it. I’d much rather be in the background and let my students shine. That sounds so cheesy to say that but it’s true,” she laughs. “I’m so proud of the work my students do and that’s what keeps me doing it.”
Smith has advised the paper for over 10 years and it’s very important to her. “I think that it really comes back to student voice,” she says. “I think it’s easy as adults who work in schools, like we’ve been in high school for – well, for me – 20-some years, minus leaving for college, and you forget how powerful and important everything is when you’re in it; so to empower students with their voice is really important. Also, it’s very concrete. It’s a way to provide authentic writing experiences. I love teaching literature and I think it’s really important, but it’s sometimes hard to make it feel relevant, the writing especially.”
She also believes that student journalism as a whole is incredibly important. “Besides president and senator, it’s the only profession that’s written into the Constitution. I’m sure this is the influence of people like Ben Franklin, who used the press. That was how they fought the war, that’s how they turned the people’s tide, so they wrote that right into the First Amendment. It’s just as important as freedom of religion, or freedom of expression,” she says. “It also resides in an odd space because journalism’s job isn’t to reflect the newspaper’s opinion, it’s to reflect what’s happening in the world and we need that watchdog. We need that watchdog in our schools, too.” She teaches this idea to her students so they are cognitive of their rights as journalists. She also teaches them about the Tinker standard that all students are affected by.
Though she was never involved in any newspaper publications during her high school and college years, Smith has a unique perspective on the world of graphic design and engagement from working three years in marketing. “I really liked like graphic design and thinking about messaging, so when I got hired at Sehome, they asked me if I would advise the yearbook, which is kind of like a crappy job that they often give to new teachers who don’t know any better because it’s hard,” she says. “It’s more public and it’s often more stressful but it also makes me feel like a really important part of my community. Advising the publications is a really important part of my identity as a teacher.”
“I loved getting involved in journalism and my state professional organization really helped me learn how to teach yearbook as journalism in addition to the graphic design and photography,” Smith says. Even though her bachelor’s degree isn’t in journalism, she got her master’s degree in journalism education from the University of Missouri.
In the future, Smith hopes to continue to grow the paper. She would love to flesh out the digital journalism of the paper (there is currently an Instagram, Twitter and Facebook that are student run) and shortening the time between covering stories and releasing them. She also hopes to be able to integrate yearbook and the paper together to have more comprehensive stories.